The communication through coherence hypothesis suggests that only coherently oscillating neuronal groups can interact effectively and predicts an intrinsic response modulation along the oscillatory rhythm. For the motor cortex (MC) at rest, the oscillatory cycle has been shown to determine the brain's responsiveness to external stimuli. For the active MC, however, the demonstration of such a phase-specific modulation of corticospinal excitability (CSE) along the rhythm cycle is still missing. Motor evoked potentials in response to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the MC were used to probe the effect of cortical oscillations on CSE during several motor conditions. A brain-machine interface (BMI) with a robotic hand orthosis allowed investigating effects of cortical activity on CSE without the confounding effects of voluntary muscle activation. Only this BMI approach (and not active or passive hand opening alone) revealed a frequency- and phase-specific cortical modulation of CSE by sensorimotor beta-band activity that peaked once per oscillatory cycle and was independent of muscle activity. The active MC follows an intrinsic response modulation in accordance with the communication through coherence hypothesis. Furthermore, the BMI approach may facilitate and strengthen effective corticospinal communication in a therapeutic context, for example, when voluntary hand opening is no longer possible after stroke.
Keywords: brain–computer interface; brain–robot interface; closed-loop technology; corticospinal excitability; gain modulation.
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